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Safety returns from injuries, earns starting spot

Vicky Jacobsen | Thursday, November 21, 2013

After sitting out all of 2012 with shoulder and back injuries, senior safety Austin Collinsworth is back with a vengeance. 

The Fort Thomas, Ky., native and one-time kickoff return-man already has as many tackles this season (25) as he did in his first two collegiate campaigns combined, and he still has at least two regular season games with the Irish to add to that total.

Collinsworth’s first few years at Notre Dame were not without highlights: he returned a kick for 41 yards during a 24-17 win over Wake Forest in 2011, and was named Notre Dame’s Special Teams Player of the Year that same season after accumulating 14 tackles, more than any other special teams player that year. As a freshman playing in the Sun Bowl, Collinsworth recorded a 34-yard return in his first attempt as a collegian.

But he says his proudest moment at Notre Dame came during this season’s fall camp.

“Coming off shoulder surgery and back surgery my junior year and then struggling during the rehab and everything that comes with that, coming back and earning a starting position for my senior year, that was my proudest moment,” Collinsworth explained. 

The safety has started eight games and played in all 10 so far in 2013. Although Collinsworth participated in each of the 26 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons, his first career start came in this year’s season-opening 28-6 victory over Temple. 

But Collinsworth said no moment would compare to his very first game in a Notre Dame uniform.

“The first time you run out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium, it’s hard to surpass that moment,” Collinsworth said. “It was pretty special.”

Collinsworth was expected to round out a three-man rotation at safety entering the 2012 season, but shoulder surgery in June of that year put those plans on hold. Back troubles (and eventually surgery) further complicated his shoulder rehab, and it soon became clear that Collinsworth would be watching Notre Dame’s 12-0 regular season from the sidelines.

Still, Collinsworth said he enjoyed being present for the team’s success.

“It was tough. That was an awesome season, but it was fun watching the guys go out there and accomplish what they wanted to accomplish,” Collinsworth said. “It was fun being a part of being on the sidelines. Obviously I wish I could have been on the field, but it’s still an awesome experience to be a part of.”

Collinsworth credits his housemates – senior tight end Alex Welch, offensive lineman Christian Lombard and quarterback Andrew Hendrix – with helping him through the challenges of football and schoolwork.

“Those friends have always been a great support system for me and have kept me appreciating fun while I’m here,” Collinsworth said.

Collinsworth still has a year of eligibility remaining, but he’s not yet sure if he will return for a fifth year, explaining that call is “something the coaches are going to decide after the season.”

Even if next year’s plans are still up in the air, Collinsworth said he has thought about what he wants to do after Notre Dame.

“I’m a finance major. I’m probably looking into doing something in that field,” Collinsworth said. “But ideally what I’d like to do is TV. I think that would be the dream, and if that doesn’t work out I always have finance to fall back on.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Cincinnati Bengals receiver and current NBC and NFL Network broadcaster Cris Collinsworth, said he and his younger brother, Jac, a freshman at Notre Dame, have started work on their own video project.

“We are talking to some of the guys and really just trying to get to know the personalities of the Notre Dame football team,” Austin Collinsworth said. “They always get us with the football questions, so we just get on there and have some fun with the guys, trying to show a little bit of the lighter side of the team.”

The five-minute shorts, which Collinsworth said were produced with the help of Fighting Irish Digital Media, will be aired in the near future.

The locker room is not a surprising focus for Collinsworth’s project, especially considering that it played a large role in his decision to attend Notre Dame over Stanford and Oregon.

“Coach Kelly came up to Notre Dame and I decided to take an official visit up here and pretty much fell in love with it right away. It was a pretty easy choice for me, actually,” Collinsworth said. “The biggest thing about Notre Dame is the people. There’s a distinct difference, the guys in the locker-room and the people you meet on your official visit, it kind of draws you away from any other schools and towards Notre Dame.”

Although Collinsworth is now interested in the world of broadcasting, he says he’s happy with his decision to major in finance.

“I’m glad I was a business major,” Collinsworth said. “It’s definitely a struggle getting through it, but finance was always something that interested me, and when they told me that finance is the hardest business major I kind of saw it as a challenge and it’s been fun; it’s been a good experience.”

Collinsworth certainly has the benefit of a father who knows the ins and outs of football, but he says his dad was sure not to interfere with his coaches along the way.

“I definitely learned a lot from my dad. He coached me in little league football and kind of helped me grow a love for the game,” Collinsworth said. “But as far as specifics and minor coaching points, he pretty much left that up to the coaches my whole life. He was my biggest fan, always at every game and was a great dad. He’s been the best fan ever.”

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu